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Birdsong as a model for human language: controversies and further steps

Fluks, Daniëlle (2019) Birdsong as a model for human language: controversies and further steps. Bachelor's Thesis, Biology.

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Abstract

Humans are often thought to be unique in their linguistic abilities. Yet, the idea that certain features of the human language system might be found in the animal kingdom as well goes at least as far back as Darwin. More recently, behavioural, neuroanatomical and genetic similarities between the human language system and several other species were found, most notably in songbirds. This has led to a discussion on the suitability of birdsong as a model of human language. Such a model would be quite helpful, as the complexity of the human language, as well as practical and ethical limitations, make it difficult to study the human language system on a genetic and neurological level. Unlike human language, birdsong has not been shown to contain meaningful units, thus supposedly lacking any form of semantics. Yet, on the phonological and syntactical level, as well as with regards to vocal learning, the similarities between birdsong and human language appear to be striking, though they are not uncontroversial. This has led to a discussion between scientists that think birdsong could be a good model of human language, and scientists that do not think birdsong is complex enough to fulfil this role. More research into the specific similarities between birdsong and human language are necessary to determine if and in what way birdsong could contribute to our understanding of the human language system. Furthermore, the current focus on Universal Grammar as the biological basis of language might impair our understanding of the relationship between birdsong and human language, as it prevents alternative views of a biological basis of these systems from being considered in the discussion.

Item Type: Thesis (Bachelor's Thesis)
Supervisor:
Supervisor nameSupervisor E mail
Verhulst, S.S.Verhulst@rug.nl
Degree programme: Biology
Thesis type: Bachelor's Thesis
Language: English
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2019
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2019 07:29
URI: http://fse.studenttheses.ub.rug.nl/id/eprint/20300

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